Why Believe the Bible?





The Bible is the most widely read book in the history of the world. It has been translated, either in part or in its entirety, into over 2,000 languages. Throughout history, people have been willing to suffer and even die for its content. Today, even though the Bible still retains great popularity, more and more people are questioning the Bible. Is the Bible really God’s Word or just a man-made book? Hasn’t the Bible been proven wrong? What about other religious books? Why believe the Bible? These are legitimate questions that deserve reasonable answers. Christians are called to have reasonable answers for those who ask about the Christian faith (1 Peter 3:15). In other words, Christians are called to know not only what they believe, but why they believe. Christians must not leave questions that people have unanswered as though the historic Christian faith does not have legitimate answers. So why believe the Bible? Is it reasonable to believe that the Bible is indeed God’s Word and completely reliable?

 

The Bible Claims to be the Word of God 

       First, in answering these questions one must ask, “What does the Bible claim about itself?” Two books in the Old Testament state that the Ten Commandments came directly from God’s finger (Exodus 31:18; Deuteronomy 5:22). Exodus 24:4 states that “Moses wrote all the words of the LORD.”[1] In similar manner, the prophets of the Old Testament state in their writings over 5,000 times, “Thus says the LORD.” In other words, these were God’s words, not theirs. The New Testament states in 2 Timothy 3:16 that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” Elsewhere, 2 Peter 1:21 also says that “no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”[2] So these passages claim that what was written in the Bible were not the words of mere men, but came from God Himself. With claims like this it is no wonder that the Bible has drawn such a strong response from so many people. But, the Bible is not necessarily God’s Word simply because it claims to be. So, is the Bible really God’s Word and is it reliable?

 

Ancient Manuscript Evidence Confirms the Original Words

of the Bible Have Been Preserved

       The Old Testament was written during a thousand year period from 1450 BC to 400 BC. Over the centuries scribes would meticulously make copies of the Old Testament as they counted the verses, words, and letters of the Law and other parts of Scripture to ensure the faithful transmission of the biblical text. As the older manuscripts began to wear out they would make new copies and dispose of the older copies. In fact, the newer copies were, in some respects, even preferred over the older copies which were more subject to wear and tear. Because of this, the oldest available copies of Old Testament manuscripts, which the modern Bible is based on, are dated to around AD 1000.[3] This leads to an important question. Do the Hebrew manuscripts dated around AD 1000, along with the modern texts we now possess, reliably preserve the original manuscripts? The greatest archaeological discovery of the twentieth century would shed great light on this question.

       The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the Qumran caves on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea between 1947 and 1956. These Scrolls (complete texts or fragments) contain every book of the Old Testament except for the book of Esther. The Dead Sea Scrolls are dated between 200 BC and AD 70. Carbon-14 dating confirms the dating of the Dead Sea Scrolls, along with evidence from archaeology, paleography, and internal allusions (references) within the Scrolls. Previously, the earliest Old Testament manuscripts available dated to around AD 900. The Dead Sea Scrolls discovery takes the dating of available Old Testament manuscripts back 1,000 years! When the scrolls were examined, it was discovered that the scribes were accurate with great precision. Many of the biblical texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls are remarkably almost identical to the Hebrew Masoretic Text (which the modern Bible is based) with the exception of a few minor differences (such as a few spelling details). The Dead Sea Scrolls demonstrate the reliability and faithful transmission of the Old Testament text. In other words, we can be assured that what we have now is what was originally written. The Old Testament was well preserved and accurately handed down to us today.

       The New Testament was written between AD 40 – 100. There are over 5,000 ancient manuscripts or portions of manuscripts of the New Testament. The earliest portions of these New Testament manuscripts are dated to within mere decades of the original manuscripts. For example, one of the most amazing finds is the John Rylands fragment (P52), which is 3 ½ by 2 ½ inches, containing words from John 18:31-33, 37-38. This papyrus fragment was discovered in Egypt and is dated to around AD 125 giving convincing evidence of early circulation of the Gospel of John. The John Rylands Papyrus dates to within mere decades, or even closer, to the original manuscript. This may not sound so impressive until you compare these numbers with other ancient documents. For example, there are only a handful of copies of the historical writings of Herodotus, with the earliest copy dated at 1,300 years after the original. Only a handful of copies exist of Caesar’s writings, with the earliest of those copies dating to 900 years after the original.[4] No serious scholar would question the authenticity of Herodotus or Caesar. Yet there are over 5,000 manuscripts or portions of manuscripts of the New Testament, with some going all the way back to within mere decades of the originals. Thus, one can have full confidence that what we have now recorded in the New Testament is what was originally written. The superiority of the New Testament as a reliable historical document is demonstrated in the manuscript evidence.

 

Reliable Eye-Witness Testimony Confirms the History of the Bible

       There are those who simply will not believe in the historical events (including the resurrection) recorded in the New Testament unless they can be proven scientifically. However, since the N.T. records historical events, one cannot use the scientific method to prove it. You cannot observe, measure, or repeat the historical events in question here. Rather, one must approach the question of the history recorded in the New Testament as it is done in a court of law. One must find out if there is any reliable eye-witness testimony to verify the claims. This is exactly what the Bible has! The Bible is a reliable collection of historical documents written down by eye-witnesses.

       Regarded as one of the greatest archaeologists, Sir William Ramsay was trained in mid 19th century German historical skepticism and so did not believe that the N.T. documents were historically reliable. However, his archaeological investigations drove him to see that his skepticism was unwarranted. He had a profound change of attitude. Speaking of Luke (the author of the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts), Ramsay stated: “Luke is a historian of the first rank…he should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.”[5] Luke himself records that what he wrote came directly from eye-witnesses of Christ (Luke 1:1-4). Peter made it clear that they were not following myths, but that they recorded actual events which transpired in history. Peter further attests “we were eye-witnesses of His majesty” (2 Peter 1:16). John also affirms “that which we have seen and heard we declare to you” (1 John 1:1-3). Paul states that there were hundreds of eye-witnesses of the resurrection still living at the time he wrote his first letter to the Corinthians during the first century (see 1 Corinthians 15:3-8). In other words, Paul was stating that you could go and ask any one of these people and they could confirm the claims of the apostles. If the biblical writers were making claims about Christ that were not true, then certainly someone who witnessed the life of Jesus would have spoken up against these claims. However, there are no external historical documents from that time period contrary to the eye-witness testimony of the New Testament. Upon investigation, it is demonstrated with great confidence that the New Testament is reliable history.

 

Archaeology Confirms the History of the Bible

       Christianity is a historic faith. That is, it is rooted in history. Thus, if the events actually transpired in history as the Bible records, then there should be archaeological evidence to support the claims of the Bible. One should be able to literally go dig up the past and see if it confirms Scripture. This is exactly what one finds when exploring the archaeological artifacts. Also, if one can “dig up” confirmation of the biblical history, then it also follows that one could “dig up” evidence which contradicts the history recorded in the Bible if the biblical record was not true in certain claims. No such archaeological evidence, however, contradicts the biblical record of history. The fact is that the archaeological evidence repeatedly confirms the historical details given in Scripture. A few examples are in order at this point.

       The Dead Sea Scrolls – The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls between 1947 and 1956 has already been introduced and is clearly one of the greatest archaeological finds as they give invaluable confirmation to the reliability of the text of the Old Testament.

       The Gilgamesh Epic Cuneiform Tablets – In the mid-19th century, twelve cuneiform tablets known as The Gilgamesh Epic were discovered in the ancient Babylonian city of Nineveh. The Gilgamesh Epic gives the Babylonian account of a global flood in which Utnapishtim is the hero of the flood account. There are striking similarities between the biblical flood account found in the Book of Genesis and the flood account in the Gilgamesh Epic. There are also vast differences between the two accounts which demonstrate the superiority of the Genesis account.[6] If there was a global Flood and all people are descendants of Noah and his sons as the Bible teaches, then one would expect to find flood traditions in different cultures all over the world. In fact, there are over 200 flood traditions in cultures all over the world. Flood traditions in cultures all over the world, including the amazing Gilgamesh Epic tablets, support the biblical account of a global Flood.

       The Code of Hammurabi – Historians were skeptical that Moses wrote the Law around 1450 BC believing that writing had not developed at that time. Then archaeologists discovered the Code of Hammurabi, on a large stele over seven feet tall. This code was written centuries before Moses around 1750 BC. Other law codes predate the time of Moses as well showing that the writing of the Law was not too early for the time of Moses.

       The Hittite City Hattusha – The Bible makes reference to the Hittite people in the Book of Genesis. Scholars found no evidence of the Hittites outside of the Old Testament and concluded that the Old Testament was in error. Then archaeologists began excavating in the early twentieth century and discovered the large Hittite capital, Hattusha, in modern Turkey. Thousands of clay cuneiform tablets were found confirming the Hittite people.[7] Now the Hittites, whose existence was doubted by historians previously, are well documented by thousands of clay tablets confirming the biblical historical details.[8]  

       Sargon’s Palace and Inscription – Isaiah 20:1 describes Sargon, king of Assyria, capturing Ashdod. Skeptics assumed the Bible was in error because no other ancient records mentioned Sargon. Then in the mid-19th century Sargon’s palace was discovered in Khorsabad a few miles northeast of Nineveh and an inscription was also found in reference to the conquest of Ashdod, confirming the biblical historical details.

       Belshazzar, Co-Ruler of Babylon – The Book of Daniel alone describes King Belshazzar as the ruler at the time of the fall of Babylon while secular records described Nabonidus as the king at that time. Then archaeologists discovered documents that showed Nabonidus spent the last days of his reign outside of Babylon and had his son Belshazzar co-ruler of Babylon, confirming the biblical testimony.[9]

       John Rylands Papyrus – The amazing discovery of the John Rylands papyrus (P52) containing verses from the Gospel of John has already been introduced. This papyrus is dated to around AD 125, within decades of the original manuscript showing the early circulation of this Gospel in Egypt.

       Numerous more archaeological discoveries could be cited which give witness to the reliability of the Old Testament. Furthermore, the New Testament has been verified as a reliable historical document time and again by numerous archaeological finds as the renowned archaeologist William Ramsay attested to. The cited examples above are just a fraction of the overwhelming archaeological evidence confirming the biblical historical details.            

 

Fulfilled Prophecies Confirm the Divine Origin of the Bible 

       Fulfilled prophecy separates the Bible from every other book as no other religious texts in the world can lay claim to fulfilled prophecy. Hundreds of prophecies are given in the Old Testament and not a single one has failed. For example, in Isaiah 44:18-45:13, the prophet Isaiah prophesied that God would raise up a ruler named Cyrus to rebuild the city of Jerusalem. A few hundred years later Cyrus, king of Persia, decreed to have the city of Jerusalem rebuilt. In Daniel 7:6 and 8:21-22, Daniel prophesied the swift rise of the Greek empire under Alexander the Great and the division of his empire into four parts after his death. Over 200 years later, Alexander the Great conquered much of the world. After his death the empire was divided among his generals into four parts, though, as Daniel foretold, none ruled with the strength of Alexander.

       The Old Testament also makes numerous prophecies concerning the Messiah’s first coming and all were fulfilled. For example, Isaiah 7:14 predicts that the Messiah would be born of a virgin. Some 700 years later, the Gospel writer Matthew records that this prophecy was fulfilled in the virgin birth of Jesus (Matthew 1:18-23). The prophet Micah foretold in Micah 5:2 that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Over 700 years later, Matthew again records the fulfillment of this prophecy in Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1-6).

       In Isaiah 53 the prophet Isaiah foretold of the Messiah as the Suffering Servant who makes atonement for lost humanity. All four Gospels record the substitutionary death on the cross by Jesus to atone for the sins of the world. Another interesting messianic text is Psalm 22. When Jesus was dying on the cross He cried out with a loud voice quoting Psalm 22:1, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” Psalm 22:7-8 states, “All those who see Me ridicule Me; they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying ‘He trusted in the LORD, let Him rescue Him; let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him.’” Interestingly, this is what the chief priests, scribes, and elders said about Jesus while He was on the cross (Matthew 27:39-43). The Psalm continues in verses 14-15 describing the suffering and thirst of the Messiah and the Gospels record that Jesus stated “I thirst” while on the cross, in fulfillment of Psalm 22 (John 19:28). Psalm 22:16-18 states “they pierced My hands and My feet; I can count all My bones. They look and stare at Me. They divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots.” Matthew 27:35 records that the soldiers fulfilled this prophecy. Lastly, the phrase in verse 16, “they pierced My hands and My feet” was written 1,000 years before Christ by a man who had never witnessed a crucifixion because crucifixion had not yet been invented.[10]      

       Many predictions in the Bible are adequately separated by time from their fulfillment. These predictions are precise enough in detail as to render improbable any theory of chance or being merely man-made ideas. There are a sufficient number of these prophecies so as to render highly probable an advanced knowledge that could only come from a source outside of man. God is the most likely explanation of such a source of information. One cannot simply write off the multitude of fulfilled prophecies in Scripture. Fulfilled prophecies in the Bible are further evidence of the divine origin and reliability of the Bible.

 

The Consistent Message Confirms the Divine Origin of the Bible

       The consistency of the biblical record is astonishing when a few basic observations are made. The Bible was written in three different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) on three different continents (Africa, Asia, and Europe). The Bible was written by over 40 different authors, most of whom never met one another. The Bible was written over a 1500 year period (ca. 1450 BC – AD 100). Yet, the Bible tells one singularly woven together story. 

 

Conclusion: God’s Word is True

       So why believe the Bible? The Bible claims to be the Word of God. The reliability of the biblical claims is demonstrated by numerous evidences. The amazing manuscript evidence for the Old and New Testament confirms that the original words of the Bible have been faithfully preserved. The reliable eye-witness testimony of the New Testament confirms the historical accounts recorded in the New Testament. The historical details of the Bible are confirmed repeatedly by archaeology. The vast number of prophecies fulfilled confirms the divine origin of the Bible. Also, the amazing consistency of the Bible’s message over the centuries by numerous authors attests to its divine origin. To believe that the Bible is merely a man-made book would be an even greater miracle itself than the very miracles the Bible proclaims. When one examines the nature of the Bible, the conclusion is that no mere men could pull this off. It is most reasonable to conclude that there must be a God behind the biblical text who has revealed Himself to us. To reject the divine origin and reliability of the Bible seems to stretch all credulity. Far from being a “blind faith,” belief in the Bible is a reasonable faith based on evidence.

 

 

 

End Notes


[1] All Scripture quotations from NKJV unless otherwise noted.

 

[2] NASB

 

[3] The two major Hebrew manuscripts are known as the Aleppo Codex and the Leningrad Codex. The Aleppo Codex, from Syria, is dated around AD 930. The Aleppo Codex was the authoritative text for the Old Testament and large portions were destroyed in 1947 when Arabs rioted against the Jews. Today, the oldest complete manuscript of the Hebrew Bible is the Leningrad Codex which was written in Cairo around AD 1010. These two manuscripts are regarded as the models of a form of Hebrew text known today as the Masoretic Text. The Leningrad Codex underlies most editions of the modern Hebrew Bible. The Cairo Codex is a manuscript of the Former and Latter Prophets scribed by Moses ben Asher around AD 900 and is currently held in Cairo. The Leningrad Codex of the Prophets was written around AD 916 and includes the Latter Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and The Twelve). 

 

[4] F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?, sixth edition, (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1981) p. 11.

 

[5] Sir William Ramsay, The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament, (1915) cited in F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents, pp. 91-92.

 

[6] Alexander Heidel, The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels (Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, 1946, 1949).

 

[7] Alfred J. Hoerth, Gerald L. Mattingly, and Edwin M. Yamauchi, Peoples of the Old Testament World (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1994) pp. 134-135.

 

[8] Walter C. Kaiser Jr., The Old Testament Documents: Are They Reliable & Relevant? (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2001) p. 102.

 

[9] Ibid., p. 99.

 

[10] Voddie Baucham, Jr., The Ever-Loving Truth (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2004) p. 146.

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